Are You Ready To Hire A Marketing Firm?

Every business owner is faced with the similar options and approaches to handling their communications strategy and campaigns.  Most start by trying it themselves, because they believe they know their business best, and want to give a try at the “fun stuff” – like marketing and advertising.

Like many businesses, you might also consider hiring a full or part-time marketing assistant or consultant.  Before you do…ask yourself this: When your business needs electrical work do you do it yourself? Hire an electrician to be on staff full-time? Or ask your plumber to handle it?

Bring in the Experts.

Though simple marketing and advertising might seem simple enough to do yourself, nothing hurts as much as a costly misfire.  Not only will you send the wrong message to a very busy public, but your budget will likely suffer and you’ll be in no position to recover or redirect the funds and time wasted.  The fact is, no one can do the job as effectively and efficiently as someone who lives and breathes the industry everyday.

Seeing the forest and the trees.

With any luck, the consultant you hire will bring with them an objective opinion and a fresh perspective.  It’s easy for many business owners to lose perspective on their brand as they become immersed in daily operations.  When you’re managing the minutia of business, it’s easy to lose sight of the bigger picture.  Often, a business’ marketing will reflect this, and the actual benefits of a product or service is lost to a detailed description of its functions and product details.  All emotion is lost in the pitch, and as such, isn’t received by the intended audience.

If you add another ball, technically it is juggling.

Even if you give the added tasks of marketing to an employee, attention is being taken away from other important responsibilities and projects.  Consultants on the other hand, are dedicated to one, and only one, important portion of your business.  The right one will stay focused on your brand’s image and sales – allowing you to keep your attention on other important development projects and goals.

Be Like Gumby.

The right consultant will remain very flexible, and should be ready to take on an assignment at a moment’s notices.  The ease of getting a project started is just a phone call away from being put into production.  Conversely, hiring a new employee to handle your marketing takes time to advertise, interview, and sort through candidates – often to find you may or may not have committed to the overhead of an employee.

The C- Word

Hiring a marketing consultant or firm may not require a long-term Commitment.  When a marketing firm completes a project, they have the flexibility to move into whatever position you need, from quarterly analysis, to basic maintenance, to completely out of the picture while remaining on the sidelines when you’re ready to take a new step forward.

Whatever your stage in business, it’s worth your time to set clear strategic goals for your marketing budget – and spend it wisely.  Investing in a professional or team of consultants to help you execute your campaign will not only save you money in the long run, but deliver greater results for your investment.

Do you work with a marketing firm?  If so…we’d love to hear about your experience!

Focus Your Branding For Success

One of the important challenges we face as a communications team is convincing new and old companies that having a formal, written, focused marketing strategy is and essential foundation for success.  You’d think this wouldn’t be all that difficult to accept from a logical perspective; planning is key to reach any of your goals.  Yet, we’re constantly surprised at how few do have one, and how many say they do… but really don’t.

Focus, in marketing, is critical.  The risk of losing focus is failure, and often signals the end for a brand.  But how do you go about focusing and developing a cohesive, integrated brand marketing strategy?  Our advice (obviously) would be to hire a professional to help you… unless you have a strong background in marketing; let alone advertising, public relations, social media, and web development.  All of these important brand strategy tools are there for you to consider, and strategically plan into an actionable list of tactics and to-do’s.

If you don’t have the experience or funds to invest in a professional’s guidance and help, strategizing and defining your unique communications is more than challenging – it’s nearly impossible for many entrepreneurs and emerging brands.  Although you may not have the resources to hire a professional or agency, the need remains, and many businesses close their doors because of scattered and unfocused brand strategies.

There are a few mistakes that continue to reveal themselves when investigating our client’s unique brand stories and goals.  If you can identify any these trends in your communications, consider that it might be time to adjust your thinking and plans:

Serving Too Many Masters.  Focus your attention on one, possibly two messages at any given time.  Consistency is key – in both appearance, tone, and frequency.  If you can’t clearly communicate your value in various time frames you’ll encounter from the elevator pitch to the hour long lunch, you’ve not defined your brand clearly enough for anyone to easily understand.

Not Everyone Is A Fan.  In fact, few people will be fans as you introduce and continue to communicate your brand’s services or products.  If you’ve not defined your target market with extreme precision and detail, you’ll not spend your time or money wisely with a shot-gun approach.  Your unique enthusiasm for what you do, and who you serve needs to be carefully tailored to be in the tone and mode your very specific audience is welcoming.

Cheap Is Not Always Good.  That 150,000 coupon booklet opportunity might seem like a great media buy – until they scatter your brand in the wind after delivery to your neighbors doorstep.  Randomly choosing media options that appear to be a good deal is not part of a targeted media campaign.  While great deals happen, you need to have a media and communications plan (PR+Social Media+Advertising) that broadcasts your message to a very specific audience. Start with a 90 day commitment at a miniumum with good frequency for that specific media channel.

Not Following The Herd.  Investing time mingling in social circles that your brand should be known is, including networking events and social media channels, may be one of the most effective use of time and money for your brand’s success.  Even the largest national brands maintain strong social presences in their specific industry’s circles.  Once you’ve got a solid brand strategy and communications plan in place, it’s critical to network your way to larger circles of connections – and opportunity.

Don’t forget – the 80/20 rule still applies in brand marketing today, especially with tighter budgets and more communication channels to choose.  Time is still money – and spending both are critical first steps for any brand – no matter what its age.  If you find you’re in need of direction with this critically important step in branding, please contact us.

Focus your brand’s strategy on an innovative, integrated communications plan – and get started on the path to greater rewards for your investment of time and money now.

Finding Your Micro Market

Sooner or later, it happens to nearly everyone. You’re more than excited about promoting your new service or product… you roll out the marketing campaign and…. it falls flat.  Or maybe your still using sales materials that have previously worked well for years, then suddenly…nothing.  Business comes to a stand still.

This isn’t atypical in today’s changing market.  Previously mass markets have imploded releasing a cloud of micro-markets that have evolved.  Consider the newspaper or the music industry evolutions in just the past decade.  Mass markets are quickly becoming micro-markets, and the days of selling “one size fits all” for either services or products are gone.

Micro markets are, by their very nature, specialized.  A micro brewery obviously isn’t targeting a mass market – they’re looking specifically for beer aficionados and connoisseurs. These people would rather savor a bottle of a special brew than a six-pack of Budweiser.   Conversely, mass markets are composed of a large group of people with a specific need or want – and within them may reside countless micro-markets as of yet untouched.  Consider how a newspaper targets a mass market, while a blog make be the ideal channel for a micro-market.

No matter how big or small your brand, I always suggest focusing on finding a “market within your market” – your target micro-market.

Here are four fairly simple steps you can take immediately to help reveal an untapped micro-market existing within the larger market.

  1. Adjust your message. You don’t necessarily have to start over completely…simply adjust it. It may be as simple as saying the same thing with slightly different words as your audience may have grown tired of the “same old headline.”   Ad messaging that worked perfectly in the past simply do not have the same attraction power that they did 5 or 10 years ago.
  2. Reconnect with “your people.”  Are you sure you’re really still in touch with your market?  Take the time and start talking to people again. Ask questions about your services and products… and listen intently to their feedback. Getting back in touch, if you haven’t for some time, will guide you to a new relationship based on communication, and not broadcasting.
  3. Provide solutions the market can afford.  Simply put – don’t be greedy.  Greed can go well beyond valid price-points. Obviously, you still have to make enough of a profit to warrant staying in business at the end of the day – and your price may be greatly affected by that basic overhead. Those realities aside, carefully reconsider your pricing structure, and how your customers feel about it in general.
  4. Adjust your short and long-term focus.  The unfortunate fact is, many industries are dying and not coming back.  When the writing’s clearly on the wall, why go down with the ship? There comes a time when a new plan is exactly what you need.  Over the years, the US Military learned from experience – an entrance strategy is extremely important but at the end of the day, the exit strategy is just as important.

Realistically addressing these four areas of your business up front will help you from making emotional decisions along the way. It should also help you from giving up to soon or staying too long. During this process, you will be able to adjust to the changes in your market as well as discovering new micro-markets in your industry along the way.

How have you adjusted your marketing mix in today’s micro-market driven economy?

Smart Branding: Online and Offline

Few products or services can reach the level of brand recognition that the millions of ad dollars help create.  Few businesses have the resources or expertise to achieve those levels, but that doesn’t mean that corporate or business branding should be overlooked in strategy and planning.

Branding is much more about creating and keeping a clear, unified vision of a company, with all of its marketing efforts focused on supporting that one central theme….the customer’s experience.

Website and Social Media

I think nearly everyone can agree that a website is a key element for branding any business today.  As the internet continues to grow in popularity as a primary place of commerce, the competition to truly “stand out from the crowd” become more and more difficult to achieve.  And so, the importance of your website continues to grow with the market as one of the key places your brand “lives”.

The explosion of social networking platforms has created a whole other arena for online branding. While having a solid social media presence is another important channel to consider for your brand, using it well becomes even more of a challenge. When you communicate with your customers through social sites like Facebook and Twitter,  you create the kind of direct engagement that can lead to real customer loyalty.

But, while incorporating your brand image (logo) and messages in your social media outreach is smart, nothing is as powerful as engaging your clients and prospects in real dialogue, and helping to spread their messages to your followers as well.   This “social reciprocity” creates a public image of interaction that can strengthen your relationships – and even more importantly, elevate the level of your brand in the competitive market.

The most important thing to remember with a website and social media is that it should remain true in message and presentation to every offline endeavor. If you have a general look to your printed materials, flyers and brochures, the website should capture as many of those conventions as possible. The more unified your on-line and offline marketing is, the more successful they will be in branding your company as a whole.

Logo Products and Community Engagement

Many businesses can also benefit from offline promotions and marketing with logo products and community engagement. While branded promotional items may seem like an unnecessary expense to many emerging or struggling businesses, the reality is these little tokens and reminders can go a long way toward increasing your brand’s perception and reach.  Granted, people may not make a purchase decision based on whose company pen is more stylish, but when it does come time to make the sale decision, they may just be reminded of your offering through that one small investment in a promotional item..

Physically reaching out to your local community is another great way to get people interacting with, and learning more about your brand.   Something  as simple as a one page flyer can be available in group settings that can make all the difference in your sales strategy.  But even more powerful that collateral, supporting a non-profit cause (“Cause Marketing”) may be the most effective of all.  Showing that your company cares about a cause is one of the fastest ways to attract, and maintain a solid list of loyal clients.

No matter if you’re offline or online marketing, branding is key to your business.  Smart branding is using all of the methods at your disposal to increase the visibility of your brand name, and when you leverage your website and social media together as one unified effort, deploy your logo cleverly and embrace your local community, you create a marketing mix that can take your company brand to a new level.

What “marketing mix” has worked (or not worked) for your brand recently?

Got IMC?

We marketers LOVE our acronyms.  Many times, they’re used to convey complex concepts that are difficult to explain in a sentence or two.  Other times, our love for abbreviation is a simple way to make us look more intelligent that we really are – or worse yet, give importance to a topic or trend that’s easily explained in more simple language.

Whatever your perspective on the language of marketing, Integrated Marketing Communications, or IMC, is something that you should both embrace, and evaluate for your brand.

What (formally) is IMC?  Wikipedia says it: ” is the coordination and integration of all marketing communication tools, avenues, functions and sources within a company into a seamless program that maximizes the impact on consumers and other end users at a minimal cost.”  As a basic understanding of the concept, I’d agree – but there is much, much more to this important concept.

True, IMC is when all of your marketing communications work as one effort in unison.  Your printed materials/collateral, website, advertising, mail campaigns, PR and social media must speak with “one voice”…. in “one language”… at “one time”.    Consistency of your language and tone (or “voice”) is key to all of your internal and external communications – or what I like to call “touch points”.

But really …is that it?  Don’t we expect that we all strive to have one voice in a well-organized, collaborated campaign?  Of course we do – that’s nothing new.

More than your communication efforts, IMC is about integrating your customer into your company/brand.

More than what you think your customers need, truly effective IMC is becoming honestly responsive to your customer’s insights, desires and wishes…. and then crafting your company and its products to fill those needs.  IMC dedicated companies are much closer to their customers – they welcome them in their strategic thinking and planning.  They truly want to achieve the best for their clients changing interests.

IMC is for smart brands.  How are you integrating your customer’s opinions and perceptions directly into your marketing efforts?  Are you truly listening to them, and acting on their input?  Or are you faking it and using IMC as an excuse to do what you really want?

What examples of great IMC do you see in today’s market?  We’d like to know what you think is working now for your brand.

Let’s Have Some Fun

Personally, I’m guilty of it: taking marketing a little too seriously.  Sometimes, the best approach (especially in today’s economy) is to simply have a bit of fun with your marketing.  With the pressures and frustrations of finding a successful marketing path today, consumers continue to seek out engaging, fun ideas – especially through social media channels.

Having fun is important.  Being original at it is even more crucial.  Those who manage both can gain new clients and establish a lasting impression in the minds of consumers and prospects.  One of the keys is being entertaining…. so let’s have some fun.

Fun Advertising

As you launch your marketing, make some room for a few engaging ads that focus your brand’s message to consumers in a way they can personally relat to.  Perhaps it’s a character, a slogan, or even a mascot that promotes a humorous message related to your product or service.  If your business is conservative in nature, you still have plenty of opportunity to leverage sophistication to your advantage in an engaging way.

Promotional Specialties

Have you ever looked through a catalogue of promotional specialties?  You know… the pages and pages of mugs, backpacks, pens, toys and other items that start to blend into one confusing mess of options?  Find a professional to help you select one that compliments your marketing strategy and advertising campaign.  Fun trinkets can make a serious point – and both should be physically related.  Feature your giveaway in your ads – make it the central point of your campaign – and something that means more than its face value when received.  Tie your messaging and your item to a t-shirt.  Create a campaign around one idea, but express it in several ways that make your customers want to wear it as your traveling message. Your promotional item will not only be more appreciated, but have a longer “shelf life” in the minds of your customers.

Media Tie-Ins

Popular culture provides a wealth of opportunities to tie your messaging into a movie them or weekly television show. Like “Survivor”?  Then why not create a campaign with promotional items… maybe a poster…a t-shirt… or even some signage.  Create a competition for your customers to engage, then send it out to your target community via a press release and through your social media channels.  Because the popular culture theme is already accepted, you’ll find more initial interest in playing along with your game.

House Parties

When times get tough, people party.  Invite them to your office for an informal, hosted event.  You might consider the timing of this gathering to take place after your campaign is launched, and you have a little more interest in your message.  Add a fun promotional give-away, and you’ll have a winning combination.E

Online Games and Specials

Don’t underestimate the power of the net to attract more and more people to your business.  Banner ads, digital newsletters, ads and promotions can be the most effective means of attracting attention.  But beware – there is a fine line between online promotions and spamming.  Engage your current mailing list, and invite them to invite their friends to play along.  Perhaps a treasure hunt as an incentive to winning a discount to your services or product?  The key is participation and interactivity between your customers that will create a level of conversation about your brand you may not be able to buy.

All of these ideas need to be personalized to your company’s core values – and most importantly, your brand’s key positioning in the market.  Creativity is the key to having fun with marketing, as is consistency.  Integrating your message through your traditional media (television, radio and print) is an important factor to your success if budget allows.

The results will return ten-fold… and you’ll have a campaign worth your time and investment.

So come on… let’s have a little fun while we build your brand’s awareness.

What fun campaigns do you think have been the most successful in your community?  We’d love to see more examples of great work…so please let us know.

Gambling On Advertising

For some businesses, placing a bet on advertising feels like gambling at the casino.  Marketers often don’t make this any better for their clients in their belief that dedicating ad dollars to campaigns is a bit like playing Texas Hold ‘Em – a gamble at best.  And to be truthful, that can be the case – but not because advertising doesn’t work.

It’s usually because of a variety of other factors – boring creative, an ill-thought strategy, and more frequently, because the campaign itself wasn’t funded to establish enough frequency.

Just like a good round at the poker table, the hand your dealt has little to do with your chances of winning or losing the next hand. Each successive hand is a new event, and there may be little or no link from one success to another.  But integrated communications – especially in marketing and advertising, is very different.

You can start the marketing wheel with a bet, and will find that spinning it again the next time is easier…faster…and produces more results.  Much like social media, it’s not a single follower, but the momentum of building a following that carries you on to a successful campaign, and with a bit of luck, some true viral buzz.

The error for many comes in placing their bet on a single tactic.  This will likely produce some kind of result – a spike in web traffic, an increase in phone calls.  But once the campaign has run its course in a few weeks, the numbers return back to their previous state of static.  And so, another push to start the wheel is needed…with an equal amount of effort…and the odds are reset.  The goal then, is to integrate your marketing…and all of your communications to keep them consistent, and eventually, let the bet ride as the wheels spin faster and faster.

You’ll get to the big payout faster, with less effort by staying consistent with your campaigns, and especially, with your advertising investment.

Strategy plays an even bigger role.  Clearly defining your goals, and your messaging will help get you off to the right start – and put a little insurance on your betting hand.

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